Just recently I have received numerous requests for information on flying drones professionally within indoor environments and thought that I might put pen to paper to give you a few practical things to think about!
1. What is the legal position on flying inside?
Let's see what the CAA has to say on the matter: “Flights inside buildings do not impact air navigation because they can have no effect on flights by aircraft in the open air. As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’ netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation. Persons intending to operate unmanned aircraft indoors should refer to the appropriate Health and Safety At Work regulations”
In short, although the usual rules do not necessarily apply you will still need to carry out a detailed risk assessment that is relevant to the environment in which you intend to operate. Your client will also almost certainly expect you to have appropriate levels of insurance, it may therefore be prudent to discuss the operation with them and check whether you would be covered. And remember this suspension of air navigation regulations if the aircraft cannot escape.
2.Uninvolved persons present extra risk!
Wherever uninvolved people are added to the equation the risk figure goes up. The closer they are to the aircraft the higher the level of risk. There are practical measures you can introduce to increase safety such as cordons across doors, signage, and size of the aircraft to name a few. The best bet is almost certainly to station marshals on the doors to keep these persons at bay.
3.Flying inside is always different from flying outside
Because you are operating indoors i.e. in an enclosed space, the environmental effects on the aircraft will be vastly different than flying out in the open. The closer you get to objects, walls, furniture, and other such obstacles will change the effect of the forces at play on the aircraft. Practical effects of this may include the aircraft being sucked towards things. Keep a watchful eye on your UAV!
4.Have you ever flown in ATTI mode?
If you haven’t you may be in for a rude awakening. Some buildings will occlude the ability of the aircraft GPS receiver to see the sky and your aircraft may well be in ATTI mode. This means that the aircraft will maintain its height but mat drift off in random directions. This is where my badgering of students to practice in ATTI mode pays off. You may also find that the aircraft's compass is affected in environments that contain high amounts of metal.
5.Change your lost link action to hover
Your drone's default failsafe mode is to rise up to its RTH height and return to the point from which it took off. If you are inside and it hits the roof you may encounter an unscheduled disassembly of your aircraft as well as looking fairly stupid in front of your client. You can change the lost link action to hover in the menu.
6.If you are not sure, don’t do it!
Finally, remember that safety comes first. If you’re not sure that flying inside is within your skill set don’t do it! It may pay to ask somebody you know with the relevant skills to either coach you or fly the job on your behalf. If you can find an environment to practice in beforehand it certainly pay dividends.